Slow and thankful.

I had a whole post mapped out in my head this morning about the end of a personal streak … but by luck, grace, and/or patience, it will have to appear another day.

To the best of my knowledge, in my post-high school running history, I have never had to either abandon a 5K to injury or walk part of the way. The caveman has always shown up, done his thing from start to finish, and gone home in one piece — whether he was running a half-marathon, or a 5K shortened to two-and-a-half miles by sloppy conditions, or distances in between.

(I do remember one race that I came out of with some knee problems, years ago in Pennsylvania, but it didn’t stop me from running and finishing.)

The half-marathon I ran in Hartford in early October has left me with some nagging leg-muscle problems. My right calf is particularly troublesome. It feels fine as long as I don’t run … but as soon as I try to run, it sooner or later feels like an alligator is biting it, too painful to run through.

I don’t think I tore anything, because the pain is not constant — it only hurts if I push it. The problem is, pushing it is integral to my preferred (indeed, only) method of staying in shape and blowing off stress and frustration.

Anyway, I signed up for my favored Thanksgiving Day 5K in Framingham — the one I triumphantly returned to in 2019 — as well as another race in early December, before I realized the calf problem wasn’t going to magically vanish with a few days of grudging idleness and a couple of ibuprofen.

I hadn’t run in at least a week-and-a-half when I went to Framingham this morning, and had even rolled back my walking workouts to a fair degree.

I figured I would jog at a deliberately gentle pace until the calf complained, at which point I would walk the rest of the way. It would still be a workout in the crisp air, and burn a few calories, and get me out of the house. Plenty of other people walk the 5K; I wouldn’t be alone.

But the calf was kind to me. It started feeling tight maybe a mile in, and it was pretty tight at the end, but the alligator never bit down. I was able to jog every step of the way, punctuating my finish with an emphatic two-footed jump on the timing pad.

It didn’t occur to me until later that a fat man’s two-footed jump is maybe not the best thing for timing equipment. Hopefully they build those timing pads strong, knowing that at least a couple people are going to thump down on them hard. C’mon, fat man, act like you’ve been there before.

Anyway, my streak of completing races lives for another day. The streak might not survive the race on December 4, but if it doesn’t, that’s fine too.

(I also enjoyed my unique-to-Framingham post-race tradition of a Budweiser and a banana. Somebody always has a couple cases of beer at the finish line, and I take one with thanks. It’s the only Bud I drink in a typical year. If I knew who was responsible, I might write a check to support their beer fund. It’s a nice perk.)

My shorter streak of completing 5Ks in a time half my age is over, but that’s OK. I’ll have to make it a goal to get back there, gradually, over time.

I’m not getting younger, so running half my age oughta get easier every day, right? Right?

On the drive in I listened to Can’s Tago Mago — not hype music; more pensive and mysterious, befitting the uncertain outcome of the race. And on the drive home through the ancient precincts of Natick and Sherborn I listened to Cheap Trick’s Dream Police, which isn’t really hype music either, just a comfortable old friend I subconsciously associate with this time of year.

That seemed sufficient for a day of limited and tightly defined triumphs.

# # # # #

As a side note, I recently signed an online petition protesting my hometown school district’s decision to fire my former cross-country and track coach.

Coach Hennessey had been there for 47 years, becoming the national leader in cross-country league-meet wins, before the district told him a few weeks before winter track season that it wasn’t renewing his contract.

The district has said only that they wanted to “go in a different direction.” For 47 years, Coach Hennessey has embodied athletic success, positive personal impact on athletes, and all-around good-natured dedication … so God knows what other direction the district wants to go in instead. Doesn’t really matter to me, as my kids don’t go there.

Some would find it interesting that I am dealing with a running problem at the same time my old coach got fired. It’s funny to think that maybe I was good to keep plodding as long as the guy who taught me to do it was still around, but once he left, some invisible level of mojo disappeared.

Of course there’s not really a direct line there. The issue is simply that I’m getting older, and have more miles on the odometer than I used to, and the simplistic “don’t think too hard, just run and stretch a little” approach that carried me this far might not be enough as I get older.

Maintaining the status quo might require more thought, effort, and strategy than it has. It probably also requires the advice of a doctor, which is something I have to buckle down and go get one of these days.

Today, though, I will be thankful. Thankful for the long-ago presence of a great coach who started me on the path, and thankful that all these years later I am still able to cross a finish line … however gracelessly.

One thought on “Slow and thankful.

  1. CONGRATULATIONS! Nice tie-in with Hen. He certainly did his job well with you and your brother. Enjoy your Thanksgiving repast! Hope your work disagreements heal!

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